Friday, November 02, 2012

Change? Another new paradigm?

  Due to Halloween falling upon a Wednesday, our normal rehearsal evening, we had a less than normal turnout last night (All Saints) and a somewhat truncated, altered rehearsal schedule. But that also provided some reflective time among our smaller numbers to share and reflect upon something I’ve otherwise not touched upon publicly: the processes by which we choose Mass settings and other service music. Because the opportunity provided by the new Missal prompted a series of meetings among leadership of various parish ensembles, the Bolduc (WLP) Mass of St. Ann was embraced as the parish default, and has proven quite well received on all accompanimental/vocal fronts. However, for our equivalent of the weekly Missa Cantata at which the primary Schola/Choir provides leadership, I opted for Royce Nickel’s “Mass of St. Therese of Liseaux (CCW, CC3). We’ve noticed a steady infusion and assimilation of its beauty by the Sunday congregation for over a year now. So much so, that we were finally enabled to support the chanting with the full SATB arrangement.
  As I’ve said elsewhere, choirs like to sing like choirs. So, I’ve been reluctant to retire the Nickel Mass for an interim as I believe it takes congregations years, not months, to become enamored then comfortable with new Mass settings. But we’d been preparing to introduce our colleague Jeffrey Ostrowski’s Mass in Honor of St. Ralph Sherwin’s Glory to God as the first step towards our first “change” since MR3. We sang the movement last Sunday (after a brief introduction prior to Mass, summarizing the process and plans.) I explained that this setting was even more chant-inclined than the Nickel, and that the choir would sing the Glory “on their behalf” that Sunday as they prayed and absorbed the beautiful setting for the first time. At last night’s rehearsal we discussed whether “the people got the ‘Sherwin’” in this brief, first encounter. One of us felt strongly they did not. He emphatically and carefully offered his opinion that as a lay singer both melodic and rhythmic structure is very important to him in terms of acquisition. He used the example of when he travels and attends Masses elsewhere, if the setting is metered, with or without music, still anticipate melodic phrases and participate. However, he said that chant melodies not only do not have that stricture, they by their own nature are not intuitively predictable in their intervallic movements, etc. And the upshot is that he feels reduced in the moment as “irrelevant” as a participant when unable to sing what is rightfully his to sing. Wow, what a sobering moment.
  Well, we pondered that for a while, and I made the choice to revisit a setting we’d auditioned over a year ago, Dr. Patrick O Shea’s Mass of the Mediatrix. And again, specifically we sang through the Glory, first using the melody only, then SATB. I had reviewed this Mass for the Chant Café a year ago. Memory of it remained in mind the whole year as a “next option.” Interestingly, singing the melody only brought some different reactions this time around. It seemed to be a series of motives conjoined together, well crafted but still somewhat arbitrary. But when we sang it SATB the memory of a wholeness and seamlessness returned in full blossom.
   So this coming Sunday we’re going to do something I’ve never done in over four decades-we’re taking a poll. I will again inform the congregation of our “dilemma” and invite their participation in counseling us. We will chant the Ostrowski as “Glory I” before Mass. And then sing the melody of the O’Shea as “Glory II” within the liturgy. After the dismissal, there will be an organ postlude and members of the schola will fan out to the exit doors and tally verbal votes for “I or II.” This is a totally new experience. I’ve always felt capable of assessing a piece of music’s worthiness, and haven’t wavered about that, and I’m not wavering now. But it can’t be a poor idea to offer the people in the pews a voice in the matter prior to the singing. What do you think?


Jonathan Lee Ching said...

I found this article at the Musica Sacra Forum. Quite thought provoking.

I think that asking the people in the pews is an important step, however you know as well as I that at the end of the day they will sing anything the pastor supports. Ask him first!

I found that my congregation picked up the Sherwin very easily even the Gloria and also the Missa de Angelis from their youth.

Mr. C said...

Actually (may I call you John?) John, my pastor invests full confidence in the musical decisions for the parish(es, we're four merged) with me.
I want to be clear, I haven't a doubt in the world that this one particular congregation can negotiate the Sherwin with ease over time. I'm merely sharing the fact that the promulgation of the third edition of the RG in English provided us all with opportunities to examine our repertoire decision-making processes. Unfortunately, some measured research (by Michael Silhavey in MN) and anecdotal evidence on various fori and blogs indicate that DM's/choir directors, pastors and BISHOPS (!) have chosen simply to opt for the meager offerings of the Big Three.
That's not how I roll.